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Top 25 Local Search Ranking Signals You Need To Know

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Top 25 Local Search Ranking Signals You Need To Know


Getting a local business to rank is challenging for three reasons:

  • An uptick in mobile uses because more people are using their phones to find businesses near them.
  • A surge of businesses recognizing the value of local SEO are making results more competitive.
  • Google Local Pack, which was once the top seven, is now just the top three.

So, what does it take to appear at the top of these competitive local results, to get you in front of the people searching for products and services like yours?

Here, you’ll learn about 25 specific local ranking signals you need to understand and optimize for in order to perform as well as possible in local search.

First, let’s take a look at how these changes with Google’s Map Pack/Local Pack are a game-changer for businesses.

Recent Map Pack Changes You Need To Know

Google’s Local Pack is where a searcher makes a query with local intent and Google’s three most relevant results show up above the organic listings.

The importance of the Local Pack tool is evident in that Google is constantly modifying the Local Pack to be more useful to searchers.

For example, Google recently announced that they are rolling out to the search interface on desktop that when people search for places or businesses nearby, such as [restaurants near me], they’ll easily see local results on the left and a map on the right.

Here’s an example of how that search would work:

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Screenshot from search for [restaurants near me], Google, November 2021

Why is Google’s Local Pack so important?

It allows the searcher ultimate convenience to quickly find a business near them and see hours, phone numbers, reviews, and more without clicking through a website.

Ranking locally for your business is vital and local SEO must be a critical component of your overall optimization strategy if you hope to increase your odds of getting ranked in Google’s Local Pack.

As with all things Google, there is no exact formula for getting to the top and the competition is fierce.

But, this article will outline important steps you can take to build your local online presence and increase your chances of ranking well as a local business.

What Are The Top Local SEO Ranking Signals?

I have organized the list of critical SEO Ranking Signals into two broad categories:

  • The Basics: This covers the most foundational ranking signals. These are the low-hanging fruit and the fundamental factors that must be addressed to rank for SEO.
  • The Nitty-Gritty Local Ranking Signals: This outlines the more advanced local ranking signals that you’ll need to move to the top and outrank a competitor.

The Basics

1. Google Business Profile

You may know Google Business Profile by its previous name, Google My Business.

It is easy and free to claim your Google Business Profile.

This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to improve your local SEO.

There are two methods:

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With the first, you enter the name and address of the business and choose it from the search results.

With the second method, you find your business on Google Search or Google Maps and click “Claim this Business.”

2. Google Business Profile Categories

Categories describe your business and help you connect to the customers who are looking for you.

Choose a primary category that describes your business as a whole and be specific.

For example, if you are a nail salon, select “nail salon” rather than just “salon.”

3. Photos On Google Business Profile

You can add photos or videos to your Google My Business Page. These could include your location, products, staff, and even customers (with permission, of course).

Photos can add interest and credibility to your listing and also serve as a local ranking signal.

4. Bing Places For Business

Google is the most commonly used search engine, but Bing still holds a small share (about 7% of the world market according to this source).

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Cover all the bases by setting up your Bing Places for Business.

5. Online Directories/Citations

Claim your business in other popular online directories, such as these:

  • Apple Maps.
  • Yellowpages.
  • Foursquare.
  • Yahoo’s Localworks.

6. Listings On Review Sites

A study by Harvard Business Review shows the power of listings on review sites.

Their findings were that a business’s one-star improvement in YELP rating leads to a 5-9% increase in revenue.

To get reviews, start by getting listed on these sites:

  • Yelp.
  • Glassdoor.
  • Angie’s List.

It appears that reviews on Google carry the most weight, but listings on these other sites are still very valuable.

7. Number Of Positive Reviews

Achieving positive reviews and interacting with your customers by responding to their reviews is important.

According to Google, high-quality reviews help the customer by improving your business’s visibility and increasing the likelihood that a customer will visit your location.

It is important to respond to reviews.Screenshot by author, November 2021

Don’t forget this important caveat to this recommendation on seeking positive reviews: It is against their policies to buy reviews by asking for reviews in exchange for something else.

Other sites, such as YELP, similarly have policies in place against manipulation with the goal to keep the reviews authentic and unbiased.

8. Reviews With Keywords And Locations

Not all reviews are created equal.

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When reviewers use the city or keywords, it sends signals to Google that you are a trusted local business.

If you have many products or services, it’s recommended to have your customers send them in individually and according to the specific product or service that they have.

9. Reviews With Responses

Owner responses to Google show that the page is actively managed and that you are engaged with them.

Google has also indicated that your replies are important because reviews build trust.

10. Percentage Of Negative Reviews Not Responded To

In a double whammy, the number of reviews with responses counts, but so does negative reviews with no responses.

You need to have a plan in place for responding to all reviews and particularly negative ones. Read here for more guidance on how to handle negative reviews.

Google has set up a system if you believe there has been an inappropriate or negative review on Google and want to get it removed.

11. Create A Facebook Business Page

Many people are comfortable with Facebook and use it as a search engine, so it is on this list.

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Make sure you at least create a business page and update it with your website, hours, and a description.

Social signals may have a limited impact but they do have an impact on social SEO.

Social signals may have a limited impact but they do have an impact on social SEO.Screenshot by author, November 2021

12. Social Listings

Whether you plan to be active on social listings or not, you should at minimum claim your business on all of the popular social sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Pin a tweet or post inviting users to call/visit your website/follow you on whatever social platform you are most active on.

In a survey of 3,200 customers, the average customer expectation of response time was four hours!

With an expectation of fast response from businesses on social, short turn-around replies, your business needs to reply lightning fast to meet this expectation.

13. Consistent Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP)

Be consistent with your business name, address, and phone number through every medium to allow Google searches to provide accurate information.

Also, a consistent name, address, and phone number can make it easy for your customers to connect with your business.

Attention to detail here is important.

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For example, if your business name is Jon’s Burger, LLC on one site and Jon’s BurgerS on another site, the slight difference in name and entity could cause confusion.

14. Mobile Responsiveness

Google looks at your mobile site first, not your desktop site. This tool can help you get started on achieving mobile responsiveness.

The Nitty Gritty Local SEO Ranking Signals

15. Structured Data Markup

There are several ways you can use structured data markups for local SEO, including for:

  • Multiple departments.
  • Hours.
  • Address.
  • Menu.
  • Website.
  • Phone number.

These are highly recommended by Google. You can add markups using Google’s guide or a tool like Schema.

It is also worth noting there is some lack of clarity on whether including GPS coordinates within structured data is helpful.

See ‘How to Use Schema for Local SEO: A Complete Guide’ for use cases and sample markup.

16. Click-Through Rates From Search Results

If you are succeeding at SEO in general, you will do well in local SEO. Makes sense, right?

Focus on making sure your meta titles and descriptions make sense so users find what they expect when they arrive at your site.

17. Localized Content

Consistent publication of content is key here. Set a goal for ongoing content and measure your progress to ensure results.

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Make sure you can organically include your key term and location.

For example, write about local events, share efforts to raise funds for a local charity, include information topics important in the local community, etc. Think about what makes sense for your brand.

18. On-Page Location + Keyword Optimization

For example, don’t just optimize for “furnace repair.” Optimize for “furnace repair Sacramento.”

19. Title + Meta Description

Include key terms and location in your title and meta descriptions when feasible.

This is in coordination with on-page location plus keyword optimization, but it is important enough to warrant mentioning separately.

20. High-Quality Inbound Links

Links from sites Google trusts are good for SEO. The topic of inbound links is important and extensive and a deep discussion is beyond the scope of this article.

Learn more in this local link building guide.

21. Diversity Of Inbound Links

You want a range of inbound links that are relevant, authoritative, and gained organically.

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A good analogy in an investment portfolio. You would want diversification of different types of investments and different levels of risk.

Your link strategy should be similarly diversified.

You want as many links as possible from as many different websites as possible, with the note that you want all of the links to be high quality.

22. Inbound Links From Local Relevant Sites

Links from local news sites, community blogs, and so forth prove that your site is trusted by your neighbors.

For some businesses, a press release to local news stations could help here. For others, engaging in discussion on local social media sites might be helpful.

23. Inbound Using Local + Keyword In Anchor Text

Are you ready to set a hard goal?

An inbound link from a high authority site using both your city or neighborhood and the main key term is like the “holy grail” of links.

24. Proximity To The Searcher

Your proximity to the searcher is what it is, and you can’t optimize this factor.

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However, it is a strong ranking signal, which is why claiming your Google Business Profile and having a consistent name, address, and profile is important.

25. Domain Authority To Your Website

Domain authority is a search ranking authority developed by Moz that predicts how likely a website is to rank.

Increasing your domain authority isn’t a quick or easy process, but it is likely to pay off handsomely.

Conclusion

What do all these local SEO features mean for your local SEO strategies?

Here are the two major takeaways:

  • Your Google Business Profile is the first and most important place to start to optimize your local SEO ranking. Claim it. Make sure it’s complete and accurate. Choose the categories. Get reviews. Respond to reviews.
  • The second most important thing you can do for local SEO is to focus on a big-picture, holistic SEO strategy. Build a high-quality link profile, create useful well-researched content with both local and key terms, and make sure your meta descriptions are optimized.

Local SEO is a competitive field, but for most businesses, there is still room for growth and improvement.

This list will help you increase your chances of being included in Google’s Local Pack, but most importantly, it will help increase your ability to be found by and connect with local customers.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

Top 25 Local Search Ranking Signals You Need To Know

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Here’s How We Do It

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Here’s How We Do It

I’ve managed Ahrefs’ social media accounts for nine months now—and it’s been a journey, from experimenting with content formats to figuring out what engages people the most.

To keep things succinct, I’ll be focusing on our primary social media platform: Twitter.

I’ll also make it clear now that I won’t cover my content creation process in too much depth, since many people expressed more interest in learning about our growth strategy and how we measure engagement.

Twitter’s a convenient way to build camaraderie, lead conversations, get immediate feedback, as well as respond quickly to mentions and/or related news. Mind-blowing, right?

Now let’s get to the reasons for Ahrefs’ focus on the social media platform:

It’s the place for marketers to be

If you’ve been in the SEO space for a while, you’ll know that many prominent marketers and influencers spend their time on the platform, including Lily Ray, Rand Fishkin, Amanda Natividad, and scores more.

It “humanizes” us 

We get to interact with our followers closely and in a more casual manner. This reminds people that we’re actively listening to their concerns and engaged in the SEO space.

Brand-building 

In all, 47% of people who visit a Twitter profile also visit the website linked in that profile. In our case, we get an average of 113 link clicks per day across our tweets.

Graph showing link clicks

For versatility’s sake

We’ve got a wide variety of content and resources: product updates, blog posts, videos on Ahrefs TV, free courses in Ahrefs Academy, and free tools like Ahrefs Webmaster Tools.

Twitter allows us to amplify all of these in fresh formats, plus cover them in both breadth and depth. They’re also easily shareable (e.g., via RTs and quote tweets).

And because it’s impossible for us to cover everything within our own content, we sometimes create threads based on others’ content—I’ll get to this later.

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Cracking the Twitter algorithm

It’s common knowledge that as long as you use a social media platform, you’re at the mercy of its algorithm. So how to crack it? Is there a formula to win the game?

Unless you go the Google Sheets hacks route, the answer’s… no. (Were you really surprised?)

The Twitter algorithm is constantly evolving, just like our social media strategy. So your best playing cards are experimentation and gathering feedback from your followers.

For instance, I try to publish each blog post in at least two formats on Twitter and stagger their publishing dates to reduce content fatigue.

Take these examples that are based off a blog post on promoting your website for free.

As you can see, numbered lists are one format that consistently gets a decent number of likes and RTs. That’s one measure of success in our books. 

Still, the secret isn’t to stick to one formula that works. Rather, it’s to keep finding new formulas over and over. That’s because repeatedly using the same format could tire out your followers by making you seem uninventive and boring. (Fight me on this one!)

In fact, some of my biggest hurdles include two key things.

First, finding a way to tell effective stories through tweets and threads. Capturing an audience’s attention once or twice is good, but getting them to view Ahrefs’ Twitter account as a go-to for SEO-related topics is the bigger challenge.

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Second, not pandering to trends. Memes aren’t really our thing, and neither are snarky tweets. My colleagues, Si Quan Ong and Rebekah Bek, set the tone for Ahrefs’ social media pages early on—and ultimately, we’ve kind of stuck to it. 

That isn’t to say things won’t change, though. Our CMO, Tim Soulo, and I have discussed adopting a more casual tone of voice in the coming months and possibly experimenting with non-educational tweets. It’s all about trying things out to see what sticks.

(I kinda like some of what Shopify is doing on Twitter. Would you be averse to that if we took cues from it? Our DMs are open to suggestions. 👀)

Still, these realizations armed me with some lessons that will help you to sharpen your Twitter marketing strategy.

Lesson 1. Develop a thick skin

I originally joined Ahrefs as a content marketer, with a focus on producing and peer-reviewing content for our blog. Sure, I did things on the side—like run our Instagram accounts—but my knowledge of Twitter best practices was embarrassingly paltry.

After all, I hadn’t been active on Twitter since 2016 and only had a basic foundation of SEO to get things rolling.

So when I transitioned into looking after all of our social media pages, it was daunting—especially when it came to responding to our users, seasoned SEOs and, sometimes, trolls. 🥲

If you can relate to this, I’ll encourage you to speak with people who’ve been in the industry for some time. 

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That may include reaching out to your colleagues or marketers whom you admire or even putting out a tweet (#DidABraveThing).

Make it clear you’re looking to learn and then build out your network from there. And ask questions, because no question is silly.

I also get regular feedback from the team about my published tweets—including from Tim.

Tim's feedback about a tweet

When writing threads based off blog posts, I share my drafts with the respective authors via Typefully too; then I refine them accordingly.

Mateusz's feedback about a tweet

Keeping a tight feedback loop helps me learn more quickly.

Lesson 2. Normalize making mistakes

Sometimes, you will inevitably stuff up. Think about it: The more you post, the higher your chances of making a mistake… but that’s part of the process. 

Here’s a tweet I put out that divided our followers—yet gained plenty of engagement.

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Regardless, it was a mistake on my part because I left out some context when writing it. My intention hadn’t been to be divisive for the sake of it.

Lesson 3. Talk to people outside your circle

I also began lurking in marketing communities to have a look-see at what people were discussing and looked at top tweets for relevant hashtags (e.g., #SEO).

After doing this for some time, I noticed some patterns.

People love:

  • Relevant recommended reads.
  • The “I’ve been a [marketer/SEO] for XX years. Here are XX lessons I’ve learnt” format.
  • Infographics and clean charts/visuals.
  • Google updates—these are almost always a talking point.
  • To read things that reaffirm their points of view or are so grossly contrasting that they are irked enough to leave a response.

In fact, the latter observation holds true regardless of the topic you’re broaching. But don’t do it just for the sake of it.

You need to add value to the conversation, like this tweet by SparkToro’s Amanda.

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It takes discipline to remain active in communities—and guts to reach out to seasoned marketers! But keep at it, and you’ll soon see how much you’ve learned from moving beyond your comfort zone.

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You may even start your own marketing community, like what I did. (Drop me a DM via Twitter for invite details!)

My content planning process 

And now to the fun part!

If you’re setting up a Twitter page from scratch or are fresh into your role as a social media manager, you may wonder: How to get traction?

That’s a loaded question, but I’ll attempt to guide you by sharing my workflow.

At the start of each week, I plan the content schedule for Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Doing this weekly instead of monthly makes more sense, as things move so quickly at Ahrefs and in the SEO space.

As part of my research, I look at:

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  • Our upcoming publishing schedules for Ahrefs TV and the Ahrefs Blog.
  • Product updates and announcements (in Slack).
  • The most recent edition of our newsletter, Ahrefs Digest.
  • Brand mentions on Twitter.
  • Top-performing tweets on our account.
  • Past Ahrefs blog posts and other pieces of content that may be worth sharing.

In my opinion, you’d be remiss to keep all social content on-brand. Sharing content from others is a win-win: You can amplify other voices while introducing your followers to new ideas. (Obviously, use your discretion when doing this!)

This is why I also look into promoting external content, including:

A content calendar isn’t a necessity

I’d initially maintained a content calendar in a spreadsheet but soon found it to be needlessly time-consuming.

My current process involves writing and scheduling content directly in scheduling tool Hypefury—then adapting my tweet for LinkedIn and Facebook. Much of the content is mirrored, albeit in different formats. 

Example of content planning spreadsheet
Contentious opinion: I ditched my content calendar because keeping it updated was hampering my productivity.

If it feels counterintuitive to neglect maintaining a content calendar, you’re right to have your doubts. Still, my current system works better for me.

My advice: Do this only after you’ve figured out how often to publish content and at what times of day.

I established these by studying Ahrefs’ Twitter analytics. Our weekly organic impressions tend to peak on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so I try to queue at least five (or more!) pieces of content on each of those days.

Graph showing data on impressions

Refine the process

Speaking of giving my content calendar a wide berth—I’m working on an SOP document to improve my workflow.

My aim is to iterate each step of the process (plan → write → schedule → update Notion cards with copy → promote → track engagement) so that, eventually, I’ll have a leaner and more efficient system for planning our socials.

Many of you showed curiosity about how we analyze performance.

Our main goal is to maintain steady growth to our Twitter page. A larger audience means we get to showcase the utility of our toolset, content, and ideas to a wider pool of marketers.

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The end goal will then be conversions. For instance: get people to try Ahrefs Webmaster Tools, install our SEO Toolbar and, eventually, convert into a paying customer of our toolset.

Here’s the thing, though:

We don’t measure our goals or track conversions

(Phew, that deserved a subheading in itself!)

We don’t track any of these goals. These include click-through rates to blog posts or YouTube videos which, frankly, is a great load off of the marketing team. This allows us to focus on consistently creating quality content that resonates with our audience.

Tim elaborates on the rationale behind this process:

We do, however, try to identify successful posts—tweets that get >100 likes or more RTs/comments/quote tweets than the average post. But we don’t obsess over numbers. 

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This brings me to my next point.

Vanity metrics aren’t our final source of truth

Likes,” follower numbers, and impressions are useful indicators of what our followers and potential followers (literally) like, but they still are vanity metrics. So they aren’t our only markers of success.

Not all your content can or will resonate with all of your followers at any given time. Relinquish the heavy obsession with numbers and focus on sharing valuable yet unique content instead.

For instance, I dug into Ahrefs’ past tweets to identify content formats and topics that were worth pursuing.

Example of past tweets that performed well
Researching top-performing tweets on Ahrefs’ account using the highlighted search operators.

I then categorized them in a spreadsheet and repurposed some of them accordingly:

Spreadsheet of content that could be repurposed

Reporting on performance

Every four weeks, Tim and I review the past month’s tweets and their engagement. Our discussions center around content formats that worked, what didn’t work (and why), and the types of topics that got traction.

Example report to Tim
Here’s how I open a typical report. You don’t need a fancy deck to get the job done.

The third section (“tweets”) is further categorized into:

  • Repurposed blog posts.
  • Monthly content picks (a thread).
  • Ahrefs TV + product updates.
  • Quick SEO tips/did-you-knows.
  • Question tweets/Ahrefs trivia.
  • Guest tweets/threads (external content sourced from newsletters and Twitter).
Tim's suggestion of creating a simple visual
Tl;dr: try everything at least once (within reason).

Many of you also asked about running ads on Twitter and how much they contribute to our growth.

Hold your hats, because I’m about to deliver yet another disappointing kicker: We don’t track ad performance all that closely.

(Breathe! Let that sink in, then read on.)

Amplification is only a part of the process, and it helps in raising awareness about the value we can bring to the user. But just like vanity metrics, we don’t rely purely on ads for growth.

Every three weeks or so, I study our ad performance. Then I revisit promoted tweets that achieved an engagement rate of 20% or higher.

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Table showing engagement rates

Doing this has helped me develop a better understanding of what our audience wants.

Of course, this method may change in the near future—but for now, it’s what we’re rolling with.

Frequency

We also promote each of our blog posts and YouTube videos at least once, regardless of how well the original tweet performed organically. Each ad typically runs for at least three weekdays.

If something performs astronomically poorly (e.g., 10 likes or fewer after multiple RTs from our account), I rewrite it in a new format and track its performance before running an ad for it.

We’ve also got a slightly higher budget for running ads for product updates and feature releases. Unlike our content, I try to promote each announcement at least twice (once with a static image and another time with a screencast video).

Tracking the future

I’ve also begun looking into:

  • Studying marketers’ top tweets. 
  • Brand mentions (via Sprout Social).
  • Responding more actively to users’ tweets, including technical questions and negative feedback. (This is a team effort! Some questions continue to baffle me, which is where Tim and the marketing team help to fill the gaps.)

Bonus: Our Twitter toolkit 

If you’re curious, these are some of the tools to make my workflow a little bit easier.

Hypefury 

Hypefury is great for writing and scheduling tweets and threads. Also includes an auto-RT function.

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Writing and scheduling tweets on Hypefury
Hypefury lets me craft and preview tweets and threads easily, as well as view my publishing schedule at a glance.

Typefully 

This lets you create, preview, and share draft tweets and threads. Typefully is especially useful if you’re looking to get internal feedback.

Drafting tweet thread on Typefully

Loom 

Loom is useful for screencast recordings (with or without audio). You can also trim your clips. I use these mainly to create simple product tip videos and to highlight product features.

Others 

I’m tinkering with Sprout Social and Napoleon Cat to track brand mentions (especially when we aren’t tagged directly on Twitter).

Recommended reading: 13 Top Digital Marketing Tools (Incl. Tips on Using Them)

Closing thoughts

By the time this blog post is published, our strategy will likely have shapeshifted in some way. No Twitter marketing strategy is foolproof after all.

Once you’ve found a formula that seems to resonate with your audience, you need to keep experimenting to find more formulas that work. Iteration will yield results.

If you show that you value your followers—and can offer them value and solutions through your content and product—you’ll have a far better chance at success.

Have questions or thoughts? Ping me on Twitter.



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